American Farm Bureau’s inaugural Agricultural Investment Summit featured a handful of Iowa startups and a tip of the cap to Renew Rural Iowa, a ten-year-old Iowa Farm Bureau program that has mentored 3,000-plus Iowans and has had more than a $125 million economic impact on rural Iowa.
“Renew Rural Iowa leads the country in providing rural entrepreneurs with education and investment,” said American Farm Bureau’s Director of Rural Development Dr. Lisa Benson. “Their work has been an inspiration and model for American Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative.”
The summit, part of American Farm Bureau’s 98th Annual Convention in Phoenix, was a two-day event, providing education and investor pitching opportunities for 20-plus top ag startups from around the country. Five of those companies hailed from Iowa. Two (ScoutPro and AccuGrain) were past champions of American Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge (a three-year-old competition that has attracted more than 1,000 applicants nationwide) and another (AgriSync) was one of four finalists during the 2016 challenge. Two of the companies (ScoutPro and Performance Livestock Analytics) helped lead a three-company panel discussion to provide other summit participants tips for dealing with investors.
“I think what we have is unique,” said Casey Niemann, president of Dallas County-based AgriSync. “I think there’s a lot more coordination of effort in Iowa across organizational lines to say ‘how can we band these resources together for the benefit of entrepreneurs.’ That takes collaboration, and that takes a lot of organizations being willing to work together. I noticed today at the summit that there were a number of other state Farm Bureau organizations that were there listening to kind of try to figure out how to model what’s been done in Iowa. I tell people all the time, if you’re going to do an ag startup, and you’re trying to find a place to do that where you’re going to have support, where you’re going to have resources in an ongoing way, Iowa’s a great place to build that business.”
“The culture and ecosystem in Iowa over the last five to seven years has just exploded,” said Michael Koenig, president of ScoutPro, founded in Lone Tree, Iowa. “The resources that are available today, versus what was there five years ago is just a testament to how important entrepreneurship, especially in agriculture, is to the state of Iowa and in the Midwest, so that’s been a great opportunity for us. Iowa Farm Bureau has been a key part in helping some of the relationships that we’ve had with our customers and opportunities.”
Iowa Farm Bureau Investment Manager Adam Koppes, who delivered opening remarks at the summit and a presentation on financing growth, believes that Iowa’s rural development efforts are just getting started.
“I believe that Renew Rural Iowa will continue to exist as a central player in the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem for a long time to come,” said Koppes. “The strength of our program is directly attributable to collaboration with exceptional partners around the state, including Wellmark of Iowa, Iowa State University’s Ag Entrepreneurial Initiative, the Ag Startup Engine, and entrepreneurs themselves. Iowa has some challenges, for sure. For example, the seed stage financing gap in Iowa is very real, and we’re actively exploring ways for Renew Rural Iowa to help address it. But as long as we continue to gather feedback from companies and leaders actively engaged in building our communities and stay focused on our guiding principles of educating, mentoring, recognizing, connecting, and investing in entrepreneurs, Iowa will be in a good position to remain a national leader in rural renewal.”
Renew Rural Iowa stems from Iowa Farm Bureau’s commitment to helping rural communities prosper. The state’s largest grassroots farm organization has always believed that agriculture thrives when rural Iowa thrives. To learn more about Renew Rural Iowa, visit www.RenewRuralIowa.com.